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— NOIR — posted 4/2020

Crime fiction featuring hard-boiled characters and dark sleazy settings!

I've always been a fan of 50's noir fiction. Looking to get completely lost in a highly entertaining genre of 20th century American writing? Discover this vivid hard-boiled subset of the mystery genre — dark fiction featuring femme fatales, PI’s, and great murder mysteries. These authors are the best of the best, featuring a hand-picked selection of my favorites written by my favorites.


DASHIELL HAMMETT

The Maltese Falcon

Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderley is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and when Spade's partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby's trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted: can he track down the jewel-encrusted bird, a treasure worth killing for, before the Fat Man finds him? First published in 1930, The Maltese Falcon stands today as one of the classics of both suspense literature and American writing.


The Thin Man

Originally published in 1933, The Thin Man is the story of respectable people who are prepared to murder between drinks — and do just tha. Nick and Nora Charles are Hammett's most enchanting creations, a rich and glamorous couple who solve homicides in between wisecracks and martinis. At once knowing and unabashedly romantic, The Thin Man is a murder mystery that doubles as a sophisticated comedy of manners.

 

The Continental Op, one of Hammett’s fictional characters, is a private investigator employed as an operative of the Continental Detective Agency's San Francisco office. The stories are all told in the first person and his name is never given. These two novels feature him:

 

Red Harvest

Considered to be one of Hammett's masterpieces, this is the most vivid and realistic picture of gang war ever written — and one of the most exciting of all suspense novels. When the last honest citizen of Poisonville was murdered, the Continental Op stayed on to punish the guilty--even if that meant taking on an entire town. More than a superb crime novel, it is a classic exploration of corruption and violence in the American grain.

 

The Dain Curse

Everything about the Leggett diamond heist indicated to the Continental Op that it was an inside job. From the stray diamond found in the yard to the eyewitness accounts of a "strange man" casing the house, everything was just too pat. Gabrielle Dain-Leggett has enough secrets to fill a closet, and when she disappears shortly after the robbery, she becomes the Op's prime suspect. But her father, Edgar Leggett, keeps some strange company himself and has a dark side the moon would envy. Before he can solve the riddle of the diamond theft, the Continental Op must first solve the mystery of this strange family.

 

The Glass Key

Paul Madvig was a cheerfully corrupt ward-heeler who aspired to something better: the daughter of Senator Ralph Bancroft Henry, the heiress to a dynasty of political purebreds. Did he want her badly enough to commit murder? And if Madvig was innocent, which of his dozens of enemies was doing an awfully good job of framing him? Dashiell Hammett's tour de force of detective fiction combines an airtight plot, authentically venal characters, and writing of telegraphic crispness.


HAMMETT COLLECTIONS

The Maltese Falcon, the Thin Man, Red Harvest (Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics )

These three classic novels, published here in one volume, are rich with the crisp prose, subtle characters, and intricate plots that made Dashiell Hammett one of the most admired writers of the 20th century. 


The Dain Curse, the Glass Key, and Selected Stories ( Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics )

 Dashiell Hammett gave us crime fiction stripped down to its most subtle and searing essentials and, at the same time, elevated to literature. The diamond-sharp prose and artfully manipulated intrigue for which he is known are on full display in the four classic short stories and two riveting novels published here in one volume.


JAMES CAIN

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Cain's first novel - the subject of an obscenity trial in Boston and the inspiration for Camus's The Stranger - is the fever-pitched tale of a drifter who stumbles into a job, into an erotic obsession, and into a murder.

 

Mildred Pierce

Noir master James M. Cain creates a novel of acute social observation and devastating emotional violence, with a heroine whose ambitions and sufferings are never less than recognizable. Mildred Pierce had gorgeous legs, a way with a skillet, and a bone-deep core of toughness. She used those attributes to survive a divorce and poverty and to claw her way out of the lower middle class. But Mildred also had two weaknesses: a yen for shiftless men, and an unreasoning devotion to a monstrous daughter.

 

Double Indemnity 

Tautly narrated and excruciatingly suspenseful, Double Indemnity gives us an X-ray view of guilt, of duplicity, and of the kind of obsessive, loveless love that devastates everything it touches. First published in 1935, this novel reaffirmed James M. Cain as a virtuoso of the roman noir.

 

Double Indemnity (The Hollywood Film)

This is one of the most admired and loved--if you can use that word for a movie about murder--films ever, the quintessential film noir/femme fatale/existential LA movie, from 1944. It also has one of the greatest pedigrees of any Hollywood film; a screenplay by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, based on a novel by James M. Cain.


RAYMOND CHANDLER

Philip Marlowe is Chandler’s fictional character, Philip Marlowe, is a a Los Angeles P.I. who is well-connected to the underworld and sleazy side of the city.  Chandler wrote a number of books featuring Marlowe.

 

The Big Sleep

Chandler's first novel, published in 1939, introduces Marlowe, as a 38-year-old P.I. moving through the seamy side of 1930s LA. The Big Sleep is a classic case involving a paralyzed California millionaire and his two psychotic daughters, complete with blackmail and murder. This book established Chandler as the master of the 'hard-boiled' detective novel, and his articulate and literary style of writing won him a large audience, which ranged from the man in the street to the most sophisticated intellectual.

 

The Lady in the Lake

A couple of missing wives—one a rich man's and one a poor man's—become the objects of Marlowe's investigation. One of them may have gotten a Mexican divorce and married a gigolo and the other may be dead. Marlowe's not sure he cares about either one, but he's not paid to care.

 

Farewell, My Lovely

Marlowe's about to give up on a completely routine case when he finds himself in the wrong place at the right time to get caught up in a murder that leads to a ring of jewel thieves, another murder, a fortune-teller, a couple more murders, and more corruption than your average graveyard.

 

The Long Goodbye

Down-and-out drunk Terry Lennox has a problem: his millionaire wife is dead and he needs to get out of LA fast. So he turns to the only friend he can trust: private investigator Philip Marlowe. Marlowe is willing to help a man down on his luck, but later Lennox commits suicide in Mexico and things start to turn nasty. Marlowe is drawn into a sordid crowd of adulterers and alcoholics in LA's Idle Valley, where the rich are suffering one big suntanned hangover. Marlowe is sure Lennox didn't kill his wife, but how many stiffs will turn up before he gets to the truth?


JAMES ELLROY

L.A. Confidential

Christmas 1951, Los Angeles: a city where the police are as corrupt as the criminals. Six prisoners are beaten senseless in their cells by cops crazed on alcohol. For the three LAPD detectives involved, it will expose the guilty secrets on which they have built their corrupt and violent careers. The novel takes these cops on a sprawling epic of brutal violence and the murderous seedy side of Hollywood. One of the best crime novels ever written, it is the heart of Ellroy's four-novel masterpiece, the LA Quartet, and an example of crime writing at its most powerful.

 

The Black Dahlia

On January 15, 1947, the torture-ravished body of a beautiful young woman is found in a vacant lot. The victim makes headlines as the Black Dahlia—and so begins the greatest manhunt in California history. Caught up in the investigation are Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard: Warrants Squad cops, friends, and rivals in love with the same woman. But both are obsessed with the Dahlia—driven by dark needs to know everything about her past, to capture her killer, to possess the woman even in death. Their quest will take them on a hellish journey through the underbelly of postwar Hollywood, to the core of the dead girl's twisted life, past the extremes of their own psyches—into a region of total madness. 

 

Because the Night

A botched liquor store heist leaves three grisly dead. A hero cop is missing. Nobody could see a pattern in these two stray bits of information-no one except Detective Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins, a brilliant and disturbed L.A. cop with an obsessive desire to protect the innocent. To him they lead to one horrifying conclusion — a killer is on the loose and preying on his city. From the master of L.A. noir comes this beautiful and brutal tale of a cop and a criminal squared off in a life and death struggle.

 

The Big Nowhere

From the widely acclaimed author of "L.A. Confidential" comes the absorbing story of three man caught in a massive web of ambition, perversion, and deceit in the Hollywood of 1950".

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